Generations Apart
Adult Hostility to Youth
McGraw-Hill, 1981
ISBN 0-07-056540-6 (cloth); 0-07-056539-2 (paper)
Generations Apart was published in 1981, at a time when Sigmund Freud's interpretation of the the myth of Oedipus was still virtually the exclusive prism through which psychologists and social scientists viewed generational conflict, whether in families or in societies at large.
Leon Sheleff was one of the first social commentators to challenge the Freudian perspective and to document Freud's biases against the young, as evidenced in several of the latter's major works and celebrated case studies. Contrary to the Freudian view that emphasizes children's destructive impulses toward their parents, Sheleff presented the thesis that in most societies, parents and other adults have been profoundly hostile to children.
To prove his thesis, Sheleff found himself among the very few authors willing to openly discuss subjects that were still taboo, such as incest and child abuse.
Ahead of His Time
Sheleff’s thesis horrified the many publishers to whom the manuscript was submitted, several of whom returned it with letters hinting that the author might simply be acting out his own unresolved oedipal hostility towards his father… Finally, a young editor at McGraw-Hill, excited by the furious reaction of one of his reviewers, had the courage to publish the book.
Generations Apart is a fascinating survey of psychology, sociology, history, anthropology, politics, law, literature and myth—as well as family life, education, juvenile care systems, the upheavals of the 1960’s, and the works of other social commentators.
Although many of Sheleff’s insights are now common knowledge, Generations Apart continues to be a valuable resource for developing a more comprehensive theoretical understanding of generational relations. Its most original contribution is the author’s reassessment of the traditional interpretation of the Oedipus myth, and his juxtaposition to it of the Persian myth of Rustum and Sohrab (in which a father unwittingly kills his son) as an equally valid and compelling analogy for the reality of generational conflict.